5 Levers of Learning

Author: Marsha Alexander, Chief Operating Officer, Collegiate Edu-Nation

While on pregnancy leave in the fall of 1980, the superintendent of Roscoe ISD contacted me about a high school math position opening at the end of the semester.  I had a BBA in General Business with teacher certification but had been working as a loan officer/processor at a local savings and loan for the past 4 years.

Math was something I enjoyed but in no world was I qualified to teach high school math. I kept refusing but he was obviously desperate and convinced me to take the job.

Keep in mind that it’s the beginning of the 2nd semester, and I have no formal math education and am adjusting to being a new mom.  How hard could it be?  Well, I went to the school during Christmas break and learned that I would be teaching 8th grade math, Algebra I, Algebra II, Geometry and Trigonometry.  I had never had a geometry or trigonometry class and these kids were halfway through with the course!  So I embarked on my education journey with teacher editions in hand trying to teach myself geometry and trigonometry and stay one lesson ahead of the students, while taking night and summer classes to earn math certification. The only thing I knew to do was to let the students know that we were all going to learn by working together.    I later taught business classes, then completed my Master’s and became the counselor for the district and finally ended my career in Roscoe as the Dean of Academics.

My story, I know, is not unique to the teaching profession and many of you have similar experiences.  So after 40 years of teaching, counseling and academic advising I “retired” and began a new journey with Collegiate Edu-Nation.  At this time in my life, as I quickly approach the age of 70,  I have spent a lot of time reflecting on my past and realizing that there isn’t a lot of time left in my future for impactful experiences.  I have a host of regrets and what ifs about those past years with thoughts centered around what I would do differently if given the opportunity, hoping and praying that I might have made a difference in a few students along the way and that I didn’t scar too many either.

Early on I attended many conferences and training sessions and heard amazing stories of innovation from leaders around the world.  Last week while in Lytle ISD, I was reminded of some of those experiences when the superintendent, Michelle Smith, opened the board meeting with a video from the Innovation Playlist, “Why Not Now”, presented by Ted Dintersmith. There wasn’t anything presented that I hadn’t heard before but it was great to hear the message again that reinforced the mission of CEN, including the “Five Big Ideas of Learning”:

  1. Mobilize the Community– Ted Dintersmith states, “If a community is behind you, you can do amazing things.  If a community doesn’t get it or is resistant or just wants school to be the way it was when they went to school, then change is much harder.”
  2. Student Driven Learning– where students have a real voice in their learning
  3. Real World Challenges– where learning is connected to the real world and students could see why it’s real
  4. Authentic Assessments– student work is assessed on evidence of mastery and real accomplishment instead of a bubble test
  5. Caring and Connected Communities– where every kid feels like they are part of a caring connect community

He continues to comment about the COVID crisis and its effect on education, quoting media and politicians as saying, “If we don’t get our kids back to “normal” school, a whole generation is at risk”.  Normal school is not the solution – normal school is the problem.  We have had a lot of “lost” school years – where students were valued for their ability to retrieve content , replicate low-level procedures, and follow instructions, we’re pushing out a whole generation of kids that are good at exactly what computers can do perfectly.

This journey with CEN has breathed new life into me with hope for a better future for ALL students regardless of where they come from.  We are working with an amazing team of individuals all over the state and U.S. with a unified mission of changing education in rural America that provides equity and opportunity for rural students equal to and beyond that of those in urban areas.

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